Tips for first timers
The more local, the longer it's gonna be closed Small neighbourhood shops that provide day-to-day services like dry-cleaning, clothing repair, appliance repair, household goods will likely close down for the entire holiday, if not an entire month, starting from the first weekend of the holiday. Odds are pretty good that any neighbourhood shop that operates out of an apartment or unofficial commercial space will close for a good month.
Chains tend to stay open Big Chinese chains tend to close for New Year's Eve (Feb 4) and/or New Year's Day (Feb 5) but stay open during the remaining days of the festival. Hourly workers are paid three times their usual rate on state holidays so big companies will try to split the difference and re-open when they think customers are likely to return.
When in doubt, call ahead This seems like a no-brainer but even if you don't speak a single word of Chinese, odds are if someone picks up the phone then they'll be open. Most Chinese businesses and restaurants will take some sort of break for the holiday but time is money after all and business owners want to re-open and start raking in the first kuai of the new year, so call ahead and see if laoban will crack the whip and get things rolling for you.
Don't get mad! Just remember, this is likely the only chance that most labourers in the city will have to return to their hometowns all year. With other major state holidays hovering around two to five days in length, it is hard to justify taking that 33-hour train ride back to rural Guizhou more than once a year. Just relax, enjoy the clear skies, the empty roads, and just remember: your favourite jianbing lady or your ayi probably hasn't seen her family all year.